THE COLUMBIAN, Vancouver, Thursday, December 16, 2004.

Circumcision Attempt - Father sentenced to three years

Thursday, December 16, 2004
By STEPHANIE RICE, Columbian staff writer

Ridgefield father Edwin B. Baxter asked God for mercy and a judge for understanding Wednesday as he faced sentencing for an attempted circumcision on his 8-year-old.

Baxter said he was inspired to cut his son after reading Scripture and first consulted his wife.

"It never has been my desire or intent to violate any laws," Baxter, 33, told Superior Court Judge James Rulli.

"I pray God will have mercy on me," Baxter said, choked up. He then put his head down on the table where he sat with his attorney.

"Mr. Baxter, you must realize, as we all must realize, that there are consequences for our actions," said Rulli, before sentencing Baxter to three years in prison.

Baxter likely will appeal on the grounds that Rulli did not let him use his Christian fundamentalist faith as a defense, but Rulli cast doubt that argument will fly.

"The court has steadfastly held that you can't jeopardize the health and safety of your family because of your religious beliefs," Rulli said.

Baxter and his 30-year-old wife have nine children in their two-bedroom home. His wife, Tammy, is pregnant and due in February.

On Sept. 3, Baxter called his son into the bathroom and had him lay in what witnesses described as a dirty bathtub. Baxter used a hunting knife to slice into his son's foreskin. He called 911 when his son began bleeding profusely.

Rulli said Baxter inflicted not only physical damage to his son, who received stitches, but probably also psychological damage.

On Dec. 7, a jury convicted Baxter of assault of a child in the second degree.

Before his trial, he rejected a plea deal that would have given him credit for the days he's spent in the Clark County Jail and had him released.

According to state sentencing guidelines, Baxter faced between two years, seven months and three years, five months in prison. Rulli had no choice but to sentence him within that range.

Rulli received letters from Baxter's friends who described Baxter as a thoughtful, honest person who "sometimes wrongly interpreted passages in the Bible."

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kim Farr said while Baxter may be a loving father who did not intend to harm his son, the attempted circumcision nevertheless was a criminal offense.

Defense attorney Tony Lowe asked Rulli to set an appeal bond so Baxter could be released pending appeal and earn money for his family. Baxter's employer, the owner of Helser Bros. Transfer Co. in Portland, wrote a letter to Rulli.

"Edwin is not a criminal," James Helser wrote. "He is guilty of using some extremely poor judgment and taking an action which he naively saw as a form of devotion and consecration to God. Edwin has already stated he has learned his lesson and would never again consider such a radical action. What he needs is some outpatient counseling, not incarceration."

Rulli denied the request for the appeal bond, meaning Baxter will be sent to prison.

Prior to his trial, Baxter was evaluated by a psychologist who concluded Baxter was competent to stand trial.

The doctor noted Baxter did have "religious fervor that suggested mild delusional thinking," Lowe said.

Lowe said Baxter would have had a doctor perform the circumcision but did not have the money.

"It was sheer poverty that led him to do it himself," Lowe said.

Baxter's father said his daughter-in-law and grandchildren are back in their Ridgefield home. After the incident, law enforcement and investigators from the state Department of Children and Family Services tried without success to find the family. Baxter's father, Bruce, said his daughter-in-law has not, as a prosecutor said earlier, given birth in a van outside the family's property. He said four children have been born in a hospital, four were born in a house and one was born in a van that was en route to a hospital.

He said the family has lived in Clark County for four or five years.

Farr said the family came to Clark County from Idaho after they were contacted by child welfare authorities.

Stephanie Rice covers the courts. She can be reached at 360-759-8004 or

(File revised 3 May 2008)